While there are fears for the future of the once staples of Aussie motoring, Ford's Falcon and the Holden Commodore, Chrysler proves there is life in the old dog yet. The second generation 300 is here, better than before, still with its Mafia staff car looks. It's big American six, V8 and diesel motoring at its best.
The 300C is not a large seller here but sales are on the rise. There are about 70,000 sold a year in the US, nearly double that of 2011 and more than twice that of the Commodore. Economies of scale and the high level of sales means it will continue to be built, while our big cars look uncertain.
In Australia there about 1200 300s sold a year, well down on Commodore (30,000) and Falcon (14,000). It's well up on 2011 (360), although the old model was not available for several months, and the 874 in 2010.
The review vehicle was the 300C, one up from the base Limited, currently $45,864 on the road. The 300C is $52,073 drive away and it comes with the 3.6-litre Pentastar petrol V6 engine and a class-leading eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.
Among the 300's features are rain brake support, ready alert braking, electronic stability control, hill start assist, all speed traction control, and ABS four-wheel disc brakes, seven airbags (including next generation multi-stage front air bags, driver inflatable knee-bolster air bag, supplemental front seat side airbags, supplemental side curtain front and rear airbags).
Other goodies are a rear 60/40 folding seat, a cargo net, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, power front driver and passenger seats with four-way lumbar adjustment, power front windows with one-touch up and down, adaptive forward lighting and Bi-Xenon HID headlamps with auto levelling and daytime running lights, heated side mirrors with power fold function, 18-inch aluminium wheels, a tyre pressure system, rear parking sensors and camera, keyless entry and stop-start button, an alarm, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, a 506 watt amplifier and nine speakers, satellite navigation, CD, DVD, MP3, a USB port, heated and ventilated leather seats, automatic wipers and headlights.
It's packed with gear normally reserved for a vehicle of $100,000-plus. Underneath is a Mercedes-Benz E-Class chassis and suspension, while outside are the macho American looks.
Inside there are 1930s art deco touches with better quality plastics. The cabin is fantastic at night when the glassy deco-like analogue instrumentation illuminates with an eerie pale blue metallic glow that's glorious, contrasting with the large centre touch screen that's 21st century in design and execution.
You sit low and wide with great shoulder and leg room. Ahead of the driver is a dashboard laid out logically. The thick indicator stalk on the left is all Benz with wiper controls. The simple gear lever action is also all Benz, but finicky to work and I couldn't for the love of me change up or down manually. There are no paddle shifters.
The steering wheel is large and a bit cumbersome and the horrid throwback foot-operated park brake requires gymnastics levels of left knee articulation. The brake pedal was too high off the floor as well and the front seats lacked support.
The rear doors are wide-opening and there's a good amount of room all round. The 462-litre boot is big and boxy and easy to load and unload. The rear seats fold so longer items can be loaded into the cabin.
The 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 is a gem, responsive with a nice sporty growl under acceleration. It features a high-pressure diecast cylinder block in a 60-degree configuration, dual overhead camshafts with roller finger followers and hydraulic lash adjusters, variable valve timing (for enhanced efficiency and power), multi-port fuel injection, and dual three-way catalytic converters (for reduced emissions).
There's 210kW of grunt at 6350rpm and 340Nm of torque at 4650rpm. The engine returns impressive fuel economy of 9.4L/100km overall. I saw 10.6L over a weekend of driving, including up and down the Kuranda Range and across my fun piece of tarmac between Walkamin and Dimbulah.
That's better than the four cylinder Honda CR-V I drove the weekend before which used 10.9L. The Chrysler only had 16km on the clock when I picked it up.
The V6 can reach 100km/h in 7 seconds and roar on to 240km/h if you dare. I was suitably impressed with the refinement of the 300C. Road, wind and engine noise levels were low, even on coarse bitumen and when punching into a head wind.
At parking speeds the electro-hydraulic power steering feels heavy, artificial, and slow, even though the turning circle is a tight 11.5m. When it comes to changing direction, there is no point hurrying the 300C around corners. The standard 18-inch rubber certainly looks the part and will stick to the road like glue. But the steering feels low geared, is not particularly sharp, and quite disconnected to the road.
It's not a sports handler yet tackled the undulating and bumpy stretch of road between the Arriga sugar mill and Oaky Creek Farm quite well. It remained stable and flat and loves the open highway. There's pliant ride quality with bumps both big and small soaked up ably by the massive tyres.
I love this car. I love its brashness and bold styling. I love the way it goes and stops, rides and cruises. I was amazed at its fuel use for a big heavy car and loved the way the eight speed auto slurred between gears.
I didn't love the awful foot operated parking brake nor the main brake pedal and the large steering wheel and flat seats. This is no old school Yank tank, with shoddy build and materials. This is a car that can take it to the costly Europeans and top spec Holdens and Fords.
The Chrysler 300C is well worth the test drive and proves that big cars do have a place in the marketplace.
Chrysler 300 C
Price: from $45,864
Engine: 3.6-litre 6-cylinder, 210kW/340Nm
Transmission: 8-speed auto, RWD
Thirst: 9.4L/100km, CO2 219g/km